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Hereafter is a Lifeless Film

October 28, 2010 Leave a comment

Clint Eastwood’s recent films have been hit or miss with me. I consider his last great film to be 2006’s “Letters From Iwo Jima.” I’m afraid that “Hereafter” belongs in the miss column. The disappointment is increased when you consider the film’s screenplay was written by the talented Peter Morgan, the man who wrote “The Queen” and “Frost/Nixon.”

The film focuses on three storylines, each dealing with characters whose lives are forever changed by death. One story follows a French TV journalist Marie Lelay (Cecile le France) on vacation in Thailand when a tsunami hits the country. She briefly dies for a moment before being resuscitated back to life. The other storyline focuses on two young twin boys Marcus and Jason (Frankie and George McLaren) in London. When Jason is killed in an auto accident, Marcus becomes obsessed into trying to contact his dead brother. The film’s main character of focus is George Lonnegan (Matt Damon), a former psychic living in San Francisco. He use to be a successful psychic, but grew tired of exploiting people’s grief.

The film starts off promisingly enough. I love the way that Eastwood introduces us to each individual storyline. The tsunami sequence had pretty terrific visuals. The set up of the twin boy’s terrible family life was expertly handled visually. Damon’s reluctancy to give a psychic reading for one of his brother’s clients, perfectly sets up the loneliness and despair that Damon experiences in his life.

I was really into film and wanted to like it, but after a strong start, there isn’t enough of a dramatic push to keep the narrative moving along in a compelling way. Cecile le France’s character encounters push back from her book publishers when she starts to write a book about the near death experience she had. I did not particularly care about this, or find it interesting in anyway. She definitely is the weakest story in the film.

I found Marcus’s search to contact his brother to be for more interesting than the French TV journalist’s story. There is a really interesting sequence involving a montage of Marcus coming across a number of phony psychics. The twins playing Marcus and Jason are first time actors and it really shows. There is one emotional moment in the beginning of the film that didn’t hit the emotional reach it was aiming for.

Matt Damon was a big disappointment. This is certainly the least interesting performance I have ever seen from him. We understand that he is lonely, but it has to be cinematically interesting to watch on-screen. It isn’t here. I cheered a bit when he briefly encounters a young lady played by Bryce Dallas Howard, because at least she is able to add some much-needed energy into his lagging plot line.

The quality of Eastwood’s films depend on the screenplay. When he gets a good script, he can deliver. The screenplay needed another polish. Peter Morgan has even admitted that he was shocked when Eastwood decided to film essentially a first draft of his screenplay. The ending dives into sentimentality, and we are meant to feel some great satisfaction when these three stories finally connect, but it never happens. It feels cheap and unearned.

2 stars

Jackson Finds His Hobbit, and a Couple of Dwarves Too

October 21, 2010 Leave a comment

Deadline broke the story Thursday about Peter Jackson officially casting actors for his two Hobbit films. Martin Freeman has been officially cast in the lead role of Bilbo Baggins. Freeman is probably best known for starring in the British version of “The Office,” and films like “Love Actually,” and “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.”

There is still no official confirmation of Ian McKellen as Gandalf or Andy Serkis as Gollum. Deadline also reports that Stephen Fry, Saoirse Ronan and Bill Nighy, as the voice of the dragon Smaug, may join the film.

Peter Jackson has also cast several other actors to play dwarves in the films. Now, I have no idea who any of these actors are, but I’m optimistic that they are all talented actors. Ain’t It Cool News has a great rundown of the new Hobbit cast with pictures. I wish I read “The Hobbit” novel, but as you readers know, I can barely read or write.

Jackson and the studio still haven’t decided where they will film the two Hobbit films. The actors’ unions in New Zealand and Australia were threatening to boycott the production of the films. The guilds have backed down, but the experience has left a sour taste in the mouth of the studio and Peter Jackson.  You can watch this clip from New Zealand TV to see how pissed off Jackson is over this. Warner Bros. will have to decide where to film the two-part “The Hobbit.” The first film is scheduled for release in December 2012, and the second is set for December 2013.

Darren Aronofsky Confirmed to Direct Wolverine 2

October 19, 2010 Leave a comment

There were reports last week that director Darren Aronofsky was close to finalizing a deal to direct “Wolverine 2.” Vulture talked to the star and producer of the film, Hugh Jackman, who confirmed that Aronofsky would direct the sequel.

Jackman has some encouraging words to say about the sequel. “This is, hopefully for me, going to be out of the box. It’s going to be the best one…” With a screenplay by “The Usual Suspects” screenwriter Chris McQuarrie, Jackman tells Vulture that “there will be something to think about as you leave the theater, for sure.”

I’m looking forward to seeing what Aronofsky can deliver working with a big budget. For most of his career he has worked on smaller, dark, personal films. Jackman doesn’t think that this will be an issue for Aronofsky, because the Wolverine character is “kinda of dark.”

Aronofsky’s latest film, “Black Swan,” generated great reviews when it played the festival route this fall, and I’m guessing that this choice is leaving some people shaking their heads. I’m guessing that he has probably been looking forward to tackling a big budget studio movie for some time now. Aronofsky was in negotiations to direct a remake of “RoboCop,” but that project fell apart. I have enough faith in Aronofsky to believe that he finds this project worth his time and talent. I’m sure the paycheck didn’t hurt his decision either.

It’s good to know that Jackman realizes that “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” was garbage, which is why he probably sought out Aronofsky to direct the sequel. He seems genuine about making a really good Wolverine movie. I don’t lay the entire blame on the film’s director, Gavin Hood. There were reports of creative conflict between Hood and Fox executives. Let’s hope that Aronofsky doesn’t meet that same kind of trouble when he directs the sequel.

Filming is set to being early next year.

The Hobbit Finally Getting Made!

October 15, 2010 Leave a comment

The New York Times reported earlier today that a deal had been formalized for Peter Jackson to direct two films based on J.R.R Tolkein’s “The Hobbit,” beginning in February 2011. Late this afternoon, the studios involved with the production, MGM, New Line and Warner Bros., issued a press release officially confirming this news. You can read the official press release here.

The project has long been delayed because MGM, the studio that co-owns the rights to the Hobbit, is going through bankruptcy and has to deal with billions of dollars of debt. The Times reported that MGM, partnering up with Warner Bros. has come up with their share of the production cost for the film, which may reach somewhere around 500 million dollars.

Deadline has some casting news to report. Ian McKellan and Andy Serkis have long been expected to reprise their roles as Gandalf and Golum. Martin Freeman, who starred in the British version of “The Office,” is supposedly the lead candidate to play the lead role of Bilbo Baggins. Freeman is an extremely funny and talented actor, I think he’ll be good fit in the role. The other big piece of casting news that Deadline is reporting, is that Michael Fassbender is being pursued for a role in film. Fassbender is a fucking great actor, and his mere presence classes up any film he is in. This line of thinking doesn’t apply to Fassbender’s role in the disastrous “Jonah Hex.” The exception proves the rule.

I would have loved to have seen how Guillermo del Toro would have handle this material, but he left the project after the many delays it encountered. I just hope that Jackson can wipe the stink from “The Lovely Bones” off him and deliver some of that “Lord of The Rings” greatness to “The Hobbit” films.

Like The Social Network

October 14, 2010 Leave a comment

This film was my most anticipated film of 2010. The expectations I had going into this film were incredibly high. As I sat in the movie theatre, I was wondering how could this film possibly live up to my expectations. I’m happy to say that the film lived up and exceeded my expectations.

The Social Network, based on the book “The Accidental Billionaires” by Ben Mezrich, chronicles the founding of the popular social networking website Facebook, and the deconstruction of Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg’s (Jesse Eisenberg) friendship with his friend and co-founder Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield). The story is told through two court depositions. One deposition follows the Saverin, Zuckerberg lawsuit and the other one tells us the story of how Zuckerberg ended up being sued by Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss (both played by Armie Hammer), twins who approached Zuckerberg with a starting a similar social networking website while the three attended Harvard University.

The film moves at a quick, lighting pace, but the audience never gets lost in the story. Director, David Fincher, and his editors, Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall, deserve massive credit for creating a compelling, coherent story, by cutting back and forth between these two court depositions. The cutting back and forth among character also does a good job of emphasizing the bite of screenwriter’s Aaron Sorkin’s terrific screenplay.

Fincher has lured some great performances from his cast. Jesse Eisenberg is terrific as Zuckerberg. He is a character who is more comfortable in front a computer screen, than talking face to face with another human being. We see this first hand in the terrific opening scene of the movie where Zuckerberg is out on a date with his girlfriend, Erica (Rooney Mara). The date ends horribly when he ends up insulting her, even though it wasn’t his intention to do so. There is something ironic in the fact that the man who creates a website that allows people to communicate, can’t properly communicate with anybody. What makes Eisenberg’s Zuckerberg a fascinating, complex character, is that we’re never quite sure what he is thinking. He’s a jerk, but we do feel sympathy for this tragic, lonely character.

The rest of the cast delivers impressive performances. Justin Timberlake is perfectly douchey and arrogant as Sean Parker, the creator of Napster. He is the force that comes between Zuckerberg and Saverin’s personal and business relationship. Andrew Garfield is really good as Facebook’s chief financial operator and Zuckerberg’s best and only friend. He is too innocent and honest, which is what leads to him getting cut out of the company. Garfield has our sympathy and anger during the great scene when he learns about this betrayal. Armie Hammer does a nice job of giving each Winklevoss twin a unique personality and delivering some good comedic relief through Sorkin’s dialogue.

Let me also point out the terrific score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. The music never calls attention to itself. It does a nice, simple job of adding a menacing undertone to the story.

Every couple of years there comes along a few great stories that perfectly convey a generation’s take on the universal themes of friendship, betrayal and loneliness. “The Social Network” is one of those films.

5 stars